The world is in turmoil, creatures from every imaginable nightmare roam the land and people are barely surviving. The world needs heroes, but there are none anymore and instead we need to turn to these damaged yet powerful people striving to right the world.
Traveling by caravan, this ragtag bunch is attempting to pierce the mountain and restore order but what can they even do? A failed soldier, disgraced doctor, runaway orphan and others are all we have to stem the tide of darkness.
They bicker, they love, they die but they are all we have. Some will grow stronger and develop bonds to strengthen the journey but ultimately all may despair and fail this world. This is the story I tell as this group tries to save what they can as they journey through the darkest dungeon.
Darkest Dungeon II has finally arrived in early access on the Epic Games Store and while it is the numerical sequel to the amazing original game it is quite a different beast. The creative director has stated that this is by design so that each game can stand on its own and continue to be played as parallel experiences. The result is a game that is different yet equally addictive, punishing and incredible to play.
Darkest Dungeon II is a roguelike this time, with branching paths encountered in each run. As each run is completed, or even if it is abandoned, experience is gathered and new items, heroes and options are unlocked.
The game starts with a group of four heroes being picked. Though the roster starts with only four it grows as experience is gathered allowing more choice. Once the heroes are selected a run path is chosen which may have extra rewards if a certain criteria are met such as a cultist battle or watchtower avoided.
Traversing the world is now done in a carriage and there are obstacles to avoid and random battles that occur as the branching paths are explored. Once battle is engaged Darkest Dungeon II looks much like its predecessor.
The heroes are aligned on the left and enemies on the right with speed-based turns assigned to each character. Where a hero is positioned determines the skills they can use and they all have varied abilities to punish, defend and afflict as needed.
Combat is always thrilling in this game as battles can sway one direction or the other, often with victory or defeat happening in equal increments. As battles progress the heroes experience horror and dread as well as develop bonds or animosity towards each other.
The new bond structure is really cool, with characters either really liking each other, which adds perks from time to time, or really hating each other which adds detriments. I quite like the system empirically but am hoping they tweak it to be less rapid. I found that hate happened really quickly and love was very rare and faded quickly. These also generate a lot of screen reactions that can get annoying in a heated battle.
Other aspects that shift from the original are the micromanagement of food and torches and managing disease/quirks. Food is relatively automatic and light/torches are added from encounters in runs which I much prefer. Quirks/illnesses are only curable with random field hospital encounters in runs, which I wish could also be leveraged at Inns.
Speaking of the Inn, at the end of each run an Inn is found as a place to rest, train up, and heal as well as add “Inn Items” that boost stats, perks or resistances. There are no longer rest areas to cure diseases or quirks or multilayered training mechanics; it is streamlined and frankly I love it.
So the mechanics are solid but is the game fun? The answer is a resounding yes, it is as fun and addicting as the original game in many similar and different ways. The story is deeper and more nuanced with actual character development segments possible on each run.
The graphics are stunning and echo the original game’s aesthetic but add so much more depth and character. The Jester character impressed me by far the most with little twirls as they move and little twitches and movements occurring all the time. Literally every aspect of this game oozes character and I was impressed by every new thing I saw as the game progressed.
This is an early access game so there are some balance issues, odd pacing choices and some (very rare) placeholder art but Darkest Dungeon II is already an incredibly impressive package. The developer Red Hook took a gamble changing the formula significantly and it has paid off in a game that is different but just as fantastic as the original in its own deranged way.